Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/253

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"COWARDLY AGNOSTICISM."

It does not mean merely that on utilitarian grounds the conduct in question can be defended as tending to certain beneficent results. This conclusion would be indeed barren and useless. It would merely amount to saying that some people would be happier if other people would for their sake consent to be miserable; or that men would be happier as a race if their instincts and impulses were different from "what they always have been and probably ever will be." When we say that certain conduct ought to be followed, we do not mean that its ultimate results can be shown to be beneficial to other people, but that they can be exhibited as desirable to the people to whom the conduct is recommended—and not only as desirable, but as desirable in a pre-eminent degree—desirable beyond all other results that are immediately beneficial to themselves. Now the positivists, or any other believers in the destinies of humanity, absurd as their beliefs may be, still have in their beliefs a means by which, theoretically, duty could be thus recommended. According to them, our sympathy with others is so keen, and the future in store for our descendants is so satisfying, that we have only to think of this future and we shall burn with a desire to work for it. But Prof. Huxley, and those who agree with him, utterly reject both of these suppositions. They say, and very rightly, that our sympathies are limited; and that the blissful future, which it is supposed will appeal to them, is moonshine. The utmost, then, in the way of objective results, that any of us can accomplish by following the path of duty, is not only little in itself, but there is no reason for supposing that it will contribute to anything great. On the contrary, it will only contribute to something which, as a whole, is "unutterably saddening."

Let us suppose, then, an individual with two ways of life open to him—the way of ordinary self-indulgence, and the way of pain, effort, and self-sacrifice. The first seems to him obviously the most advantageous; but he has heard so much fine talk in favor of the second, that he thinks it at least worth considering. He goes, we will suppose, to Prof. Huxley, and asks to have it demonstrated that this way of pain is preferable. Now what answer to that could Prof. Huxley make—he, or any other agnostic who agrees with him? He has made several answers. I am going to take them one by one; and while doing to each of them, as I hope, complete justice, to show that they are not only absolutely and ridiculously impotent to prove what is demanded of them, but they do not even succeed in touching the question at issue.

One of the answers hardly needs considering, except to show to what straits the thinker must be put who uses it. A man, says Prof. Huxley, ought to choose the way of pain and duty, because it conduces in some small degree to the good of others; and to do